Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick Answer Thursday

Two questions came up on the previous thread that I would normally have answered within the thread, but both I think deserve a higher profile than that. I'm beginning to realize there's a great deal of confusion, especially among artists, as to what art fairs are all about. This first question is a good example of that:
The problem is that art fairs are absolutely crap way to look at work. Also they are horribly inefficient. You have to move artwork, temporarily, across the country or across the ocean...and then whatever isn't sold, ship it back. then the plane tickets, hotels, meals.....I can't imagine it could possibly be profitable unless one is selling work in the mid five to six figure range.

it seems like participating in fairs is something of a "loss leader"....just something you have to do in order to maintain a profile.

Ed...can you weigh in on this?
The answer to this needs to be broken into two parts.

First comes a bit of a history lesson. Back in 2002 through more or less 2007, most younger galleries participating in one of the main satellite fairs in Miami (NADA, Pulse, Aqua, etc.) could make more money selling art in those 5 days than they would in 6-10 months back in their galleries. This is why the competition to get into those fairs was, for a while, so fierce. There was nothing "loss leader" about that aspect of participating in fairs.

Second, however, is a more complex explanation of most galleries' short- and longer-term goals with regards to art fairs. Most galleries would prefer to be in the premiere Miami art fair (Art Basel Miami Beach [ABMB]) because many of the world's top collectors visit that fair, and only that fair, during that week. Also it's a status symbol. It can help you meet more collectors, it greatly pleases your current collectors, and it can help you attract higher-profile artists.

But the competition for positions at that fair is, as they say, off the hook. Younger galleries need to pull out all the stops and submit a proposal that knocks the selection committees' socks off to get in. This can often lead to proposing booth concepts that will be difficult to sell, but will garner attention. (And it can't be emphasized enough, that it helps if the artist/s being proposed is/are having a high-profile year [e.g., biennials, museums, major commissions, etc.,] themselves.) In addition, galleries who didn't get accepted into ABMB, but know the fair directors and committee members often visit the satellite fairs, will sometimes present a booth designed to garner attention there (but, again, may be difficult to sell or even if it does sell, doesn't cover their costs), with the hopes of getting noticed and getting into Basel the following year.

In these cases, yes, you can call that a loss leader approach. But even then, the even longer-term goal is to secure your place in ABMB and eventually be able to make a lot of money there.

Of course, your position in ABMB will not remain secure if you let the quality of your booth slip, but if you look around you'll see the larger galleries tend to play it safer than the younger galleries in terms of how salable the art they bring is.

Finally, to get kind of theoretical about it, a gallery tends to want/hope for some combination of four main things at any fair :

1. To get their artists attention (with collectors, curators, or critics)
2. To establish relationships with new collectors
3. To make a profit
4. Barring that, to at least cover their costs

Any combination of these can make a fair a success, with item 3 being the exception. It alone can make the fair a success. The others tend to make me happier in groups.

The second question has a much shorter answer:
Bonus question For Edward Winkleman. If Rush Limbaugh walked in your gallery and wanted to purchase a work of art would you sell to him?
Answer: Yes.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Rico said...

This is a great post. The first Q&A set is truly informative and the second is hilarious if not obvious. I found the sales comparison staggering and now it makes a lot more sense.

On the second question...

(What, exactly, could be wrong with taking RL's money?)

If you're a screaming liberal, you give it all to the Obama re-election fund for christsake. Otherwise, if you're in business, the business of selling art in this case, you sell it to someone who wants to buy it. I really fail to see the issue; what a question!

4/19/2012 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I asked the first question. Thanks for the very informative response.

I can certainly understand that if a gallery can make 6 months of sales at a fair, they would jump at the chance. Although I am certainly not privy to sales figures I heard plenty of stories, including my own gallery, of underwhelming sales at those fairs during the boom years you mentioned.

I guess that leads to another question though....if in these leaner times one is lucky to break even, equally likely to lose a lot of money - and I'm sure there is an extremely steep drop off from the main fair to the satellite fairs - is the art fair model sustainable? Or will it become something that only the blue chip galleries participate in....

4/19/2012 08:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Annie @ Hello Sunshine Photo said...

Great post.

4/20/2012 08:50:00 PM  

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